20 September 2011

A programme for Government

With the Scottish Parliament’s summer recess over, Holyrood has wasted no time in getting back to the business of legislating. The Scottish Government has set out a wide ranging Programme for Government which will see 15 pieces of legislation brought to parliament over the coming year, an ambitious level of activity for the coming twelve months.

These bills cover a wide range of topics affecting a variety of different aspects of Scottish life. They include an Agricultural Holdings bill which will implement the recommendations of the Tenant Farming Forum to encourage more landlords to let land to tenant farmers and make it easier for a new generation of farmers to inherit tenancies by including grandchildren in the definition of a near relative.

There will be a Rights of Children and Young People Bill, enshrining the principles of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child into Scots law and spelling out the basic human rights that people under the age of 18 are entitled to. Additionally, a Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill will improve current FoI legislation and add strength and clarity to efforts to ensure open, democratic government and responsive public services.

There will be an Alcohol Minimum Pricing Bill to revisit the important health measure which was wrongly stripped out of last session’s Alcohol Bill by opposition parties. It will ensure that it is no longer possible to purchase cheap alcohol for less than the cost of a bottle of water and have its main impact on the dirt cheap ciders and own-brand vodkas which are favoured by problem drinkers.

As with every year there will be a Scottish Budget Bill which will have to cope with the continuing cuts to Scotland’s budget being passed on as a result of the UK Treasury’s obstinate determination to slash budgets when the OECD and IMF say it should be stimulating growth in the stagnating economy.

And amongst other things, there will also be legislation to move Scotland towards single, national police and fire services. This will bring an end to the unnecessary duplication of back office functions such as payroll, IT and human resources departments and will make the police more locally accountable by giving every local councillor a role in overseeing police activity in their area where it is currently restricted to the limited numbers who sit on one of Scotland’s eight police or eight fire boards.

However, legislation is only one part of the activity that any government undertakes and the Scottish Government’s plans for the coming year are no different. We will launch a programme called “Opportunities for All”, guaranteeing every 16-19 year old in Scotland an education or training position. The economic problems we have faced have affected young people particularly severely and it is only right that they are given the opportunities they need to ensure they have the skills to face the job market with confidence.

We will also continue to push for improvements to the Scotland Bill which is currently progressing through Westminster. People in Scotland voted for a stronger bill than the current damaging proposals and Westminster cannot continue to bury its head in the sand and refuse to recognise the ambitions of people in Scotland. We have outlined six key areas where we believe progress is essential to making the Scotland Bill workable and the Scottish Government will continue to make the case for their inclusion in the Scotland Bill.

With such high levels of activity ahead, it is sure to be a busy parliamentary year ahead for the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament.

Stewart Stevenson
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